Changing Hands

After cancer hand

After cancer hand

Before cancer hand

Before cancer hand

My hands are capable, veined, the palms slightly longer than the fingers, the constellation of lines the same as when I was eight years old. Well, almost. I think.

That slash across the lifeline, the fork in the road, one branch short, the other SO long, it wraps around the meat of my thumb, down to my wrist almost. When I was eight, I stared at that slash, will it be an accident, an illness?

During chemo my fingernails turned purple, then black, and peeled away. One of the list of over forty possible side effects that was handed to me when I received my first “infusion,” as they euphemistically call the administration of chemotherapy, was “discoloration and/or loss of nails.”

Chemotherapy kills all fast growing cells, such as hair follicles, skin cells, tumor cells. For months, when I bathed, my skin sloughed off in sheets, and new skin cells did not grow. Over the months I became gradually more translucent, like rice paper, a ghost of myself, the barrier between “inside” and “outside” of my body increasingly ephemeral. My fingerprints began to disappear. I should have robbed a bank.

My fingernails flaked like coconut meat, held in place with polish, band-aids, whittled to stubs with emery boards. Holdon holdon I prayed. Hold on. Which is what fingers do: they hold on. I held on for dear life.

From writing prompt “Changing Hands” in Jena Schwartz’s writing group.


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